Trail Stories

The Bear Story !

Several years ago, I was hiking in the Sampson Wilderness for a bit of recreation. As I recall, I planned to walk as far up the creek (Clark's Creek) as I could, and see where the water bubbles up out of the ground. I got a early start and the weather was pretty nice--a warm spring day. The 'Trail' beyond Buckeye Falls was relatively 'new' trail for me, having only traveled out of there one time in the dark (that was the trip that shredded both my boots), so I was anxious to see what the creek looked like in the daytime. I wandered up the creek beyond any trail, into the bear reserve. Everything was going quite well--I made it well 'beyond Buckeye' climbing cascades and boulders to where human feet seldom travel.

I was on my way back, actually, when I encountered the bear. I didn't see him or her at first, and he/she didn't see me either, apparantly. The bear was in the creek, digging for crawdads, or whatever bears dig in the creek for, with it's head tucked under a big log. I was just hiking along back down the creek, bouncing over logs and boulders as carefree as a hobbit in the sunshine, when I heard a muffled 'snuffling' noise, and looked up just in time to see the big bear's head rise up over the log. We were only about 15 or 20 feet apart. It was obvious that we had seen each other at the exact same moment as our eyes lock on to each other. If you could capture that adrenaline-filled moment, and freeze it in time, the surprise, the shock, and the intensity of that moment would be comical to watch from the perspective of an observer, I suppose. I'm sure the look on my face was priceless, as was the bear's. My mind was screaming 'BEAR', while the bears mind was screaming 'HUMAN.'

At that point, our instincts took over, and I took about half a step backward and froze. It was a bluff, as I must have figured that I probably couldn't have out ran the bear anyway. The bear turned and ran, climbing the steep slope of Sampson Mountain, until it realized that I hadn't tried to shoot it. I, of course, didn't even have a gun, just a walking stick. Anyway, when the bear realized that I wasn't hunting and got tired climbing the hillside, he/she stopped and turned around and stared at me in wonder and disbelief. We were probably 30 or 40 yards away, just looking at each other.

I have encountered many more black bears since then, some of them even larger than this particular bear, but for some reason this story stands out from the rest. Maybe because of the connection we made with each other, the universal instinct that we shared for a few moments all alone deep in the woods. Also, that was the first time I ever stood eyeball to eyeball with so big a creature in the wild. The rest of that hike seems incidental and distorted in my memory. What I took away from that incident was a deeper appriciation and respect for bears, and the wilderness in general. I also came away with a 'big bear story'--and somewhere out there, there is a black bear with a 'human encounter' story just as ludicrous as mine.